Shift to remote work improves access to capital for Wyoming startups

Wyoming companies raised approximately six times as much capital investment in 2021 as they did in 2020.

According to PitchBook’s annual Venture Monitor report, 47 Wyoming-based companies raised a total of $162.89 million in 2021. In 2020, 23 Wyoming companies raised just $26.68 million combined.

The funding haul from last year is more than all the capital raised by companies in the state during the five years prior. From 2016 to 2020, 101 companies here got a total of $134.39 million.

Although investment activity was incredibly high nationwide in 2021 – it nearly doubled – startup experts in Wyoming say the more than six-fold increase here illustrates an encouraging trend in the startup environment.

Jerad Stack, a founding member of Breakthrough307, which is one of Wyoming’s few active investment funds, said he has seen the positive trend play out in his work with Wyoming startups. He did note that the PitchBook data does somewhat exaggerate local successes.

“To be fair, some of the companies who raised capital in 2021 were really just ‘domiciled’ companies, mostly blockchain startups with a remote workforce, so they don’t have much of a physical presence or create jobs in the state,” he said. “They’ve registered their company here and paid a small incorporation fee to Wyoming in order to take advantage of the state’s business climate. To be sure, this is still a success for the blockchain-friendly laws and regulations the state has embraced over the last few years.”

Even so, he added, there were quite a few big, successful raises by job-creating Wyoming companies in 2021, and the overall trend of improved access to capital here is clear.

“I love that there’s money coming in. Companies are raising, and that didn’t happen two years ago,” he said. “The question now is how do we get those ‘domiciled’ companies to create jobs and wealth in Wyoming?”

Other experts say the encouraging trend is showing up anecdotally, as well as in the data.

Gary Trauner, the executive director of Silicon Couloir, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs in the Jackson area, said he saw more new businesses formed in 2021 than ever before.

“Clearly, COVID-19 has pushed people to start doing their own thing, and we’ve seen that regionally here in Wyoming, as well,” he said. “There’s clearly a macro-trend in our country and a more micro-trend in the state of Wyoming where more businesses are being formed, and more of them need to raise money to be successful.”

In the 16-year history of University of Wyoming’s IMPACT 307 startup incubators, a total of 15 companies have raised capital investment — five just in the last 90 days, said IMPACT 307’s interim Laramie director, Fred Schmechel. 

One of IMPACT 307’s most notable success stories, Bright Agrotech, continues significant operations in Laramie after being acquired by Plenty in 2017. Plenty, which still uses UW-owned intellectual property, announced a $400 million raise earlier this month.

“A lot of factors play into this trend, including a huge increase in the availability of funds across the country and the sudden shift to remote meetings,” Schmechel said. “An increase of this size in Wyoming shows a significant shift in the ecosystem and indicates some great, positive momentum.”

The fact that individual investors and venture capital firms like gener8tor, which launched the gBETA Cheyenne accelerator in Wyoming in the fall of 2020, are starting to pay attention to the state and initiate deals here is helping to create momentum, Schmechel added.

“There has been a longstanding narrative in Wyoming that there’s no access to capital here,” he said. “Until recently, it was hard to argue that the narrative was false. However, with investors starting to pay more attention to Wyoming, we can start to change that narrative.”

Gener8tor’s Wyoming alumni – 15 of them to date – are on track to raise a total of about $6 million to $8 million in the next few months.

“The pandemic, despite all its incredible challenges, forced investors across the country to rethink the strictly geographic nature of their investment decisions, and they began to realize there are incredibly talented startup founders in every community,” said gener8tor co-founder Joe Kirgues.

The shift to remote meetings and away from geography-based investment decisions made all the difference for Greyson Buckingham. He’s the founder of DISA, a Casper-based startup in the sustainable mining and metals industry.

“We raised an investment round in 2019, and it was normal and expected to spend an entire day traveling for a one-hour, in-person meeting with a potential investor,” Buckingham said. “For our investment round in 2021, there was one week, for example, where I had 40 Zoom meetings scheduled back-to-back with potential investors from all around the world. The normalization of meeting virtually really allowed us to tap into new investor networks.”

Plus, Buckingham added, he was able to participate in an investment accelerator program that was previously held in person. Instead, it was hosted virtually in 2021.

“Wyoming is making huge strides,” said Dennis Ellis, representative for Microsoft’s Wyoming Techspark, which sponsors gener8tor’s programming in Wyoming and supports the startup ecosystem in the state. “Microsoft sees the potential and the momentum in Wyoming, and others are starting to notice, as well. We’re building an ecosystem that makes Wyoming a place where people want to start a business.”

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